Imperfect Murder, by Rudie Obias
Since 1981, we’ve been lucky enough to get at least one movie from Woody Allen with varying degrees of quality and success. That’s a really nice way to say that Allen’s films are hit or miss, so attending one in theaters can be a risky experience. While his films are not usually tiresome or slap dashed, Allen has a talent for churning out movie after movie with a sense of humor, whimsy, and overall delight. Irrational Man is a mixed bag of tension, romance, and intrigue that makes it somewhat successful but really flawed.
The film follows philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix), moving into a new position in a small liberal arts college in Rhode Island, and Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), one of his students who is quite taken by the new professor’s brilliant mind. Abe and Jill are both trying to find meaning in their life’s pursuits, while Abe finds solace in a flask of rye whiskey and Jill finds comfort in philosophy and music. But let’s be clear, Jill is a very thin character, only used as a driving force to get Abe out of his year-long funk. However, we experience the film through their point-of-view through a series of voiceovers.
Abe experiences the first half of the film struggling to find the spark that made him a happier and loving person. It seems like nothing helps him get his mojo back, not even the loving embrace of Parker Posey’s Rita, another professor at the small liberal arts college. Even Jill’s advances seems not to detour Abe’s mopey existential dilemma… but then shifts into something completely different in the second half.
It’s not until Abe and Jill eavesdrop on a single mother’s plight to get custody of her children when Abe decides to get his life back on track. The mother is going through a long and drawn out legal melee with her ex-husband and the unethical judge at the center of it. Her ex-husband’s lawyer is good friends with the judge, so she feels that she’s being treated unfair because she’s not part of “the club.” Abe decides that the only way to do right by this anonymous single mother is to murder this odious judge.
Abe spends the rest of the film trying to plan the perfect murder to rid the world of a terrible human being. He now experiences a clarity and vigor for life that he hasn’t experienced in years. As he plans, Jill grows more and more concerned for his wellbeing as the movie shifts into a murder mystery. While this isn’t the first time Allen has combined story genres (most notably and recently in Match Point), Irrational Man quite doesn’t have the same punch or tension that a story like this needs. It often comes off as obvious and telling, as it seems that the audience is almost ahead of Abe’s actions. By no means is Irrational Man conventional but it just feels slack and shaggy.
Irrational Man doesn’t quite work as a romance or a murder mystery but it does explore the differences between right and wrong. Abe presents himself as a good man, but he feels that he needs to do something very wrong to make the world a better place. It doesn’t sound like he’s a very good man to me. Having Abe and Jill’s point-of-view throughout the entire movie gives a certain God’s eye view of the actions and thoughts of the film’s world but I’m not sure if it completely justifies their actions and responses. And maybe that’s the overall point of Irrational Man; it’s hard to find justice and meaning in an irrational world full of moral and immoral complexities. Allen’s messier films appear to be worth more than the sum of their parts and, at least on a thematic level, Irrational Man seems to be hitting that mark.